2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 252

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Issues Facing At-Risk and Institutionalized Youth in Contemporary China

Organizer and Chair: Leslie K. Wang, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA

In recent years scholars from a range of disciplines have begun examining the profound impact of Chinese societal transformations on children. While media and popular discussions tend to focus on the pressures and pleasures experienced by spoiled urban “little emperors,” this research redirects attention towards a large and growing number of vulnerable youth who exist on the margins of Chinese society. Though the composite of at-risk children has changed over time, this diverse group includes those who reside in orphanages or on the street, as well as individuals who live with families but have been marginalized due to physical or mental disabilities. These four papers utilize a variety of methodologies and theoretical approaches to examine issues facing at-risk and institutionalized children in the current period. Each grapples with the ways that these youth have been affected by: 1) broad changes in policy—particularly in regards to shifts in the Chinese social welfare system; and 2) the growth of civil society—highlighting the relationship between the Chinese state and civil society organizations in providing care to marginalized youth. This interdisciplinary panel places vulnerable children at the center of scholarly analysis, providing a new angle through which to view the human consequences of Chinese modernization.

Autism Services for Families in China: The Need for State and Civil Society Cooperation
Helen McCabe, Hussman Institute for Autism, USA

This paper analyzes state and society service provision for a most marginalized group of children in China, children with autism. While there are an increasing number of children with autism found in orphanages across China, this paper focuses on care for children who remain with their families. As China’s welfare regime has become more privatized, there are increasing options for educational intervention services for this group of children. Yet despite the increase in quantity, there are significant challenges for civil society organizations in providing quality services. This paper argues that while civil society organizations are frontrunners in providing these services, there is a need for state provision of care, including direct services to children, or support of civil society organizations. As the number of children diagnosed with autism increases, and as children with autism who receive little to no intervention become adolescents and adults, Chinese families and Chinese society will face growing challenges. This paper highlights the urgent need for Chinese state and civil society to work in a complementary fashion in order to implement a system of care for children with autism, and concludes with a consideration of solutions and recommendations.

Connections and Dissentions Between Civil-Run and State-Run Institutions in Central China: Changes and Continuities in Two Intertwined Child Welfare Regimes
Julia Toebben, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, USA

Traditionally, in China social welfare was provided independently from the state: rather than reliance on the government, family and extensive kinship networks as well as private agreements provided care for the elderly, marginalized people and minors whose family could not take care of them. These informal networks coexisted with other forms of institutionalized care run by private individuals. The changing nature of the care provided by these institutions can be analyzed in a historical context as a reflection of the shifting conceptions about childhood. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the state started participating actively in the organization of the institutionalized welfare system for children. In terms of care provided to marginalized children, the dichotomy between the Chinese state and civil society appeared when the Communist Party reinforced emphasis on state-run institutions, a system that reflected the Party ideals such as collective values and centralized power. Since the mid-1990s, Chinese state-run institutions have become major recipients of western aid and “child-saving” interventions and have become the focus of all sorts of international attention. In contrast, private civil initiatives have remained clandestine and only at times have been tolerated by the Chinese government. Based on more than two years of fieldwork in a central Chinese province, my project is the first systematic, in-depth ethnographic analysis of civil-run institutions and its coordination with other public and private sector organizations. I argue that these initiatives have been accepted because of their contribution in providing care for especially marginalized children who could not be placed in the “formal” standard system of adoption. This paper contends that the (dis)connections between these two systems reflect changes brought about by China’s international adoption program.

Beyond 'Dying Rooms': Collaborations between the Chinese State and Western NGOs in the Care of Institutionalized Children
Leslie K. Wang, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA

"In the mid-1990s a British documentary entitled “The Dying Rooms: China’s Deepest Secret” made international headlines and brought global attention to dire conditions within Chinese state-run orphanages. Graphic images of neglected, malnourished children shocked western audiences, shining a spotlight on the human consequences of China’s rapid social and economic transformations. In response to this negative publicity, the Chinese government completely closed access foreign access to child welfare institutes. Yet this initial tightening of control was followed by increased openness to international NGOs involvement with orphan relief. Since the mid-to-late 1990s foreign charitable organizations have provided a range of resources and knowledge to state institutions. Drawing on 15 months of ethnographic research that I conducted in two Chinese state orphanages, this paper examines the “transnationalization” of China’s child welfare system. Though two detailed case studies, I explore both the conflicts and collaboration that is occurring between western NGOs and the Chinese state in caring for institutionalized children."